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Air Force Ready to Fight Ebola with Virus-killing Robot

141020-F-VN235-023Air Force doctors at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia have a germ-killing robot ready to help keep rooms clean should any returning service member show symptoms of Ebola.

The 366th Medical Group at Langley is responsible for housing and monitoring troops returning from Ebola aid missions to West Africa during a mandatory 21-day quarantine period.

The 5’2”-inch robot, named Saul, is essentially a germ terminator whose pulses of high-intensity, high-energy ultraviolet rays can destroy viruses lurking in areas where hazmat-suited humans using traditional cleansers cannot reach, according to the Air Force.

"Saul will provide an extra measure of safety for both our patients and our intensive care unit staff,” Col. Marlene Kerchenski, chief nurse of the 633rd Medical Group at Langley said. Saul’s role is to do a final mop-up in contaminated environments.

There are about 1,800 American troops in Liberia and Senegal for the Ebola mission, as well as about 100 contractors and close to 60 Defense Department civilians, according to the Pentagon. The quarantine is mandatory only for service members.

Langley-Eustis is one of five U.S. bases chosen by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to look after troops returning from West Africa during a 21-day isolation period. The other bases are Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. The quarantine is mandatory for service members, though not for Defense Department civilians.

The robot is made by Xenex of San Antonio, which has sold more than 200 of their “germ zappers” to hospitals, according to the company.

The ultraviolet ray pulses emitted by Saul are 25,000 times brighter than florescent lights, Geri Genant, Xenex’s health care services manager. The rays split open bacterial cell walls and kill pathogens.

“Xenex has tested its full spectrum disinfection system on 22 microorganisms, studying nearly 2,000 samples in several independent labs all over the world," said Genant.

The machine has already shown it can kill a single strand of ribonucleic acid, a virus similar to Ebola, two meters out in any direction, within five minutes, at an efficiency rate of 99.9 percent, Genant said.

Kerchenski said Saul will be used throughout the hospital on a rotating basis.

"Our surgical services groups have already been trained on this, so we will use them as well as our service representative for a train the trainer type program,” she said.

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